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Persian Gulf States will be closely watching the coming negotiations, despite Obama administration attempt to ease tensions


GCC leaders have reservation about US success in reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear program
GCC leaders have reservation about US success in reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear program
WASHINGTON –President Barack Obama’s personal outreach to Persian Gulf nations at a summit this week may have allayed some of their concerns over his pursuit of an Iran nuclear deal for now, but the next six weeks of negotiations with Tehran will be critical to determining whether the reprieve holds, according to a Wall Street Journal article.
Arab leaders remain skeptical that Iran will agree to the stringent deal as Mr. Obama promised them would be the only one he would accept, despite their pledge of support for a “verifiable and comprehensive” agreement on Thursday following two days with the president. Mr. Obama’s push included a White House dinner, lunch at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Md., and briefings from top U.S. officials—from the secretaries of defense, Treasury and state to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
To maintain Arab support as details of a final Iran deal are negotiated, “We will make sure they stay briefed,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday. “We will stay in touch with them at all levels.”
One challenge Mr. Obama faces during the final weeks of nuclear negotiations is that Iran’s actions in the region could scuttle any support he has gained from Arab allies.
After meetings between Mr. Obama and officials from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, a joint statement said they are willing “to develop normalized relations with Iran should it cease its destabilizing activities.”
Iran, however, has intensified its aggression in international waters in the Persian Gulf in recent weeks, and the conflict in Yemen between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia continues.
The Gulf States agreed with the U.S. position that a deal with Iran would enhance regional security, but remain suspicious that such deal would lead Iran to modify they view as a destabilizing foreign policy.
“If the West accomplishes what it says it wants to accomplish [with Iran], then that’s very welcome” in the Gulf, said Asaad al-Shamlan of the Institute of Diplomatic Studies in Riyadh. “But the question on Iran is wider than that, including the spreading of sectarianism in the region and interference.”
Arab and U.S. officials involved in the Camp David meetings said the talks were constructive, despite the absence of Saudi King Salman and Bahrain’s monarch. Some analysts, however, said King Salman’s decision to skip the summit was a sign of his lowered expectations of Obama.
“I don’t think the U.S. side won something major from this summit,” said Saud Altamamy, a professor of political science at King Saud University in Riyadh.
U.S. officials who have worked on the Middle East said Mr. Obama has had contentious relationships with the Persian Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia. The White House has acknowledged disagreements between Washington and Riyadh.
Mr. Obama, for instance, has angered Arab leaders by saying the stability of Gulf nations is more likely to be threatened by internal threats than Iran.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s largest and wealthiest country, sees the six GCC states’ solidarity as a positive outcome of the summit with Mr. Obama. But they continue to disagree with the U.S. on how to jointly handle regional issues including the four-year-old Syrian civil war.
Arab states have pressed the U.S. to take more aggressive actions to push back against what they view as Iranian aggression.
Saudi Arabia, in particular, was angered in 2013 when Mr. Obama backed off a pledge to bomb Syrian security forces for their alleged use of chemical weapons. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is Tehran’s closet Arab ally.
Saudi forces have bombed Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen in recent weeks. And Arab officials have suggested Saudi Arabia and a larger Arab military force could take military action in Syria, something which could drag Washington into a larger regional war.
The GCC states pledged in Thursday’s Camp David statement, however, to give the U.S. warning before launching any attacks outside their borders. “GCC states will consult with the United States when planning to take military actions beyond GCC borders, in particular when U.S. assistance is requested for such action,” the statement says.
The Gulf States had requested a formal defense pact and additional military aid from the U.S. to counter a perceived Iran threat. Much of it, such as F-35 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, wasn’t granted.
But Arab officials gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown on Tuesday night before meeting with Mr. Obama and made a decision not to ask him for too much during their meetings.
“We decided to make the most of summit and look for longer-term cooperation” on issues such as missile defense, maritime security and cybersecurity, said an Arab official.
The U.S. and the GCC announced the forming of joint-working groups on these issues on Friday.